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When I visit Clemson for a football game, guess who comes to mind?
Frank Howard? Danny Ford? Nope, not even close. It’s Kate Hughes and her family. I mention Mrs. Hughes because she died earlier this week after an illness. My friendship with the Hughes family provided my first link to Clemson and Tiger football. Her youngest son, David, and I have been friends since elementary school. He’s now a Clemson professor.
Back in the mid-to-late 1960s, athletics – not academics – were on our minds when we packed the Hughes’ station wagon and motored to Tigertown for a day of Clemson football. I can thank the Hughes for my introduction to Death Valley. First-ever visits never fade from your memory.
How long ago was it? Well, I’ll date myself – Clemson was wearing those Cleveland Indians-like “Cs” on their helmets before the well-known Tiger Paws appeared in 1970. Those were the days of such Tigers’ aces as Buddy Gore, Charlie Waters, Jimmy Catoe and John Fulmer. The legendary Howard, who led the Tigers from 1940-69, was the coach.
Night games in Tigertown were unheard of then. Clemson played in the afternoon, which meant the Hughes’ wagon rolled early on game day. It was complete with a tailgate lunch Mrs. Hughes prepared the night before. Fried chicken, ham biscuits, chicken salad sandwiches made for a tasty pre-game meal.
My mother, the late Bettie Howey, once said as we drove off that we couldn’t get another person, or thing in the car, but we did.
Our trip to the Upstate took us to Furman where David’s older siblings – Murray, Betty and Kitty attended college. They’d pile in and we would head to Tigertown. Mrs. Hughes’ late husband, Murray, was a Clemson graduate in its military school days, so there’s the connection. David and his sister, Harriet, followed in their dad’s Tiger tracks to CU.
I saw my share of games. The one I remember most was the 1967 clash with N.C. State. The nationally-ranked Wolfpack wore its famed white shoes that season. Clemson sported orange shoes that day and stunned State 14-6. On a memorable windy day, it was a key win in its ACC title drive.
Had Clemson lost, Mrs. Hughes, ever the optimist, would have kept her familiar smile and upbeat attitude. It was the staple of her soul. She had an unforgettable smile and laugh. When my mother died, I recall Mrs. Hughes coming to the house and providing some needed laughter at a tough time in life.
She lost Mr. Hughes early in life, but guided her children to be successful in their careers. She served as a “second mother” to many a child who sat at her piano bench as she passed on her love for music through piano lessons.
A ride down White Street often rekindles fond memories of past back yard football, basketball and baseball games. I spent many a night there. I’m sure David and I, with some late-night antics, kept the Hughes up past their bedtime, but Mrs. Hughes would always say something like, “well, boys will be boys.”
When you harken back down the road of life, you always remember “special people.”
On hearing of Mrs. Hughes’ late struggle with her illness, it was said her passing to a “better place” was a blessing. Fittingly so, because she was a blessing to many. Heaven’s welcomed a true angel.